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The Cogburns, The Black Lips, White Lights
The Earl
November 2004

The Cogburns were already on stage when we arrived. We were surprised to see Johnny Knox on stage with them. Rumor had it they had him in the lineup in the Drive Invasion a while back just so he could say he'd played all 6 years, but after the show on Saturday he told us he decided to stick around with 'em for a while. It adds a little somethin' to their straight ahead power pop rock. Johnny was in full on theatrical mode, doing Pete Townsend windmills and the like.

I swore I'd seen The Black Lips somewhere before, but the problem is there are so many bands, even in Atlanta alone, with the word "Black" in their name it's tough to remember who's who. So when The Black Lips climbed on stage and I didn't recognize them I wasn't surprised.

They did a number, all screaming garage/punk racket, then paused to asked how the sound was. "Are we a little bass-heavy?"

With the racket they were making it was tough to tell.

Then they charged on with more fury. They alternated singing between three of the members, but it didn't make much of a difference. The lyrics were rarely comprehensible, drowned out in a wave of screams from one or more members of the band and backed up with screaming distortion and fuzzy guitar chaos.
After a while I got the impression that the guys knew how to play well, they just chose not to. One of the guitarists frequently just banged away at random, thrashing around so hard he fell on the floor a couple of times.
For a while, the thrashed so fast you couldn't even make him out with the naked eye, much less pick him up on film.

Toward the end of the show they set off a string of firecrackers behind one of the amps. Then the guy in the red shirt turned around and puked all over the stage and himself, twice. It seemed intentional and well-timed, just as the music seemed intentionally bad. Yet somehow I found it charming.
I was taken back to high school when several guys I knew moved in together into this tiny, run-down cabin out in the woods. They used to jam together in the basement, making horrible racket as they got excessively intoxicated on whatever drugs they could get their hands on (usually nothing more than a case of Milwaukee's Beast.) Though the music was awful, I couldn't help but get jealous when the rare girl would show up and dance around to it. There were, albeit rare, moments of energetic melody that actually worked. And at least they were doing something, y'know?
Black Lips brought back that feeling when two hot girls in mini-skirts danced around to the racket. "Wow, this is the worst band I've ever seen. Musical and literal vomit. And yet..."

Fortunately, The White Lights are almost as close to the other end of the musical spectrum as you can get. A couple of people asked me to describe them before they went on.
"Uh... odd," I said, simply. I couldn't come up with anything more to say.
"No, really. What are they like?"
I shrugged, "Odd. Nothing like that last band."
"You're not helping."
I paused, struggling. "OK, imagine you go to see your favorite lounge act and you do too much of your drug of choice and you go home to sleep it off and you have a strange dream about it. The White Lights sound like the soundtrack to that dream."

This incarnation featured some 8 members playing a wide variety of instruments you wouldn't expect to hear in a rock/pop venue. Vibraphone, violin, pedal steel, a shimmery organ in the background, three guitars - a wall of sound.
And up front you get Buffy's voice, odd, wavering yet confident.
I may like Tiger! Tiger! a bit more that The White Lights, but they share more than a member or two. They both have something vaguely haunting about them, both have complex arrangements (by rock/pop standards) and have an interesting sound that's tough to label.
For one of the final numbers the pedal steel guy played the instrument with a bow, creating a heck of a strange sound.

I picked up their new CD, Gifts from Strangers. It sounds great and reflects a lot of what you hear live, though you don't get to watch Buffy flash that crooked smile while you listen. But hey, like I always say - you should'a been there.


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